Book Review: Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon

Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon by David Barnett, Gideon Smith #2

Nineteenth century London is the center of a vast British Empire, a teeming metropolis where steam-power is king and airships ply the skies, and where Queen Victoria presides over three quarters of the known world—including the east coast of America, following the failed revolution of 1775.

Young Gideon Smith has seen things that no green lad of Her Majesty’s dominion should ever experience. Through a series of incredible events Gideon has become the newest Hero of the Empire. But Gideon is a man with a mission, for the dreaded Texas pirate Louis Cockayne has stolen the mechanical clockwork girl, Maria, along with a most fantastical weapon—a great brass dragon that was unearthed beneath ancient Egyptian soil. Maria is the only one who can pilot the beast, so Cockayne has taken girl and dragon off to points east.

Gideon and his intrepid band take to the skies and travel to the American colonies hot on Cockayne’s trail. Not only does Gideon want the machine back, he has fallen in love with Maria. Their journey will take them to the wilds of the lawless lands south of the American colonies—to free Texas, where the mad King of Steamtown rules with an iron fist (literally), where life is cheap and honor even cheaper.

Does Gideon have what it takes to not only save the day but win the girl?

A few weeks ago I read the first book in the Gideon Smith series, The Mechanical Girl, I actually postponed reading this book after I read how enthusiastic several other reviewers got about it, because the sequel, The Brass Dragon was still a few months away. My experience is when you read series you always want the next book and when I finished The Mechanical Girl I had precisely that feeling. David Barnett really pulled all the plugs associated with steampunk and create one great romp of a story, using several of the established steampunk elements but giving them their own twist, the same counts for the alternate history facts that he employed in his story. Really good and solid stuff. 

The Mechanical Girl took the story all to the depths of the pyramids in Egypt where a dragon, Apep was freed in the end. I already new the title of the sequel, The Brass Dragon, so you can quite assume that when I read about a giant dragon taking to its wings. The Brass Dragon is a direct sequel to The Mechanical Girl. Our young adventure, and want-to-be-hero Gideon Smith has now been crowned to the full fledged title of Hero to the British Empire and has completely taken over the job of his own hero Lucian Trigger. Gideon's story with Maria, the mechanical girl, has also already featured in a penny dreadful novel. Just as with the opening in The Mechanical Girl, David Barnett really knows how to open a story. This time around the focus is on Charles Darwin who got stranded on an island and the living is harsh. When all the hope seems lost and when he is attacked by dinosaurs, yes really dinosaurs, a Tyrannosaurus to be exact (how fricking cool is that by the by) Gideon and his party step in to save the day and thus opens up the book with a first mission of Gideon. After savind Charles Darwin and his remaining few crew they head back to England but not before naming the island where Charles Darwin resided as "the lost world" does that ring any bells.. ? Anyway once they are safe and sound in London once again, Gideon is readily called back in to action to stop a weapon of mass destruction. A giant brass dragon has been spotted somewhere across the ocean in the New World, a place called America! But others bells do also start to ring in Gideons ears with the mentioning of this brass dragon, namely, Maria, the automaton from Einstein whom we got to meet in the first book and who won over Gideon's heart. So now Gideon travels with much higher stakes to America not only for the brass dragon but also for a possible re-uniting with his lost love. But along the way, the road is paved with treacherous deceit, something appear way to nice then they should be. 

David Barnett created a very unique feeling to his world in The Mechanical Girl with a steampunk London and later traveling towards the exotic Egypt. The setting that he creates within The Brass Dragon is once again very inventive and David Barnett mashes up some interesting themes. When I was just a few pages in I tweeted that The Brass Dragon was off to a good start. Dinosaurs. Who would have dared to guess that! I wouldn't in my wildest dreams. I really liked how he used several other popular references in his story hinting at Jurassic Park. Besides this prehistoric references, David Barnett again has a mash-up of several others as well, think of a quasi Spanish/Aztecan one a well with quetzalcoatl and of course, since the story takes place in a America not the vision of them. It's pretty cool to read about and it once again comes to show that David Barnett has got quite the imagination. 

One aspect of the book that makes The Brass Dragon a fast paced read is the narration that is used. Now after finishing The Mechanical Girl is looked into what penny dreadful books really were and now I have come to the conclusion that David Barnett not only used them in his own story for the references towards the fiction that Gideon liked to read featuring his favorite hero, Lucian Trigger, but also that he has written The Brass Dragon in this way a fast paced, eventful, action packed kind of story. They are the adventure of Gideon Smith and friends. (I don't know whether this truly is the idea, but I got that vibe). All in all I am a big fan of the writing style that is employed, the one that David Barnett uses shows a very clear focus on the plotline and you also get to see the complete world in all it vibrant colors. 

The characters that you follow in this adventure are the not-to-be-missed Gideon Smith who has now become the new Hero. In the first book he had to learn a lot, going from a fisherman's boy to dealing with the supernatural: vampires and lets not forget a mechanical girl with the brains of a real person and a mechanized dragon. In the first book he was a bit naieve and that is totally normal being placed into a completely new surrounding as an agent for the crown and all the weird affairs that take place in some of the darker recesses of the world. It's not that Gideon didn't accept it, but it feels that in The Brass Dragon he has come to terms with it, embracing his new task and looking at the perfect "agent" not letting his emotions take the upperhand... well this is hard when you are looking for the girl you love, and which makes Gideon more than just an agent. It was a big plus to see how Gideon lost his patience and cool on more than one occasion when it came down to Maria, affectionate wise. Just as with The Mechanical Girl there are plenty of memorable characters to like. First off the introduction with Charles Darwin was one of my favorite openings ever, later introducing some of the SPanish and Japanse important players and lets not forget Aloysius Bent and some of the other trusted companions of Gideon. Their are a hoot. 

With The Brass Dragon solidly David Barnett continues the success of The Mechanical Girl. Again he has managed to create a truly unique setting with his world, this time around not focusing on Great Britain but on an alternate version of America that is ruled by several different nationalities, the Americans, Spanish, British and Japanese. The characters, though a with a bit less historical reference for me were again a treat to read about. I do have to concur with a fellow review who said that The Brass Dragon was just a bit different in producing the same feeling as The Mechanical Girl, I think this for me was owed to the fact that these parts of history were further away for me. However this didn't take away just what a very clever and more importantly cool story David Barnett has written once again. Especially when Apep shows just what he is made off! In the end of the book David Barnett does offer giant cliffhanger with a possible lead into the third book. What are you waiting for? Get reading!


  1. Not quite as good as the first book - I preferred Egypt to the Old West as a setting - but still a ton of fun. Great review.

  2. Bob - Thanks! Yes I have to agree with you. Steampunk and the wild wild west (take the Weird West Tales of Mike Resnick) is often associated with each other and I found that when David took his story to Egypt it offered a very refreshing change of scenery. I liked the reference in the end to Jack, looking forward to see how that story will unfold.


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